Anchors as useful reference points

If you were asked this off-hand: how many people are there on the planet? What would your estimate be? Seven billion? Eight billion? Chances are that this would have been a piece of general knowledge you are well accustomed with, so the answer would be on the tip of your tongue. But what if you were asked a question you did not know the answer to? Would you fib a response, meaning that you would fudge an answer and try to pass it off as a truth?

I suppose it would really depend on the situation. If your boss asked you if a particular report or piece of work had been finished – and usually the case would have been “no”, or else the boss would have got it already and need not have asked – then would you say “Yes, let me just print it off and bring it to you”, or would you admit, “No, I have still have another bit that I have not finished because last night I preferred to watch Netflix instead of taking my work home with me and working for free for this corporate company”?

We often fudge answers as a form of cover up. Do we really need to cover up? In a work situation, where our image is fairly important – you must be seen to be doing the work and not just be coasting by doing the bare minimum for the most pay, which is what most of us would probably prefer to do – then it is likely these forms of cover up and fudging exist in the work place. It is very much a case of “ready, fire and aim” rather than in a logical sequence. And sometimes the acknowledgement of the cover up is conveniently sidestepped by a half truth, such as “I’m dealing with it.” But the problem with these sorts of explanations is that the half truths catch up with you eventually.

What can we teach our children? We should show them how sometimes the acknowledgement of imperfection is a stage in the growing process. Learning to speak the truth instead of fudging a negative response is better in the long term. It also reflects that the child is doing some mental evaluation of his or her own abilities and strengths. Acknowledging this provides a useful starting point of reference, that forms the basis of future experiences – what is commonly called an anchor. (For more other child related posts particularly with reference to music education, see the Piano Teachers N8 website.)

Having a anchor that is well-defined sets a child off on the correct path in life. Of course, we have to set examples and drop anchors all our life!

Teaching, Knowledge and Assessment

Are exams a good thing or bad thing? It depends on whom you speak to. As children grow up and enter the academic world of school, they enter periods of testing and exams and homework. Most people would agree that exams to a certain extent are good, because they give the students something to focus on and apply their knowledge. A lot of school involves the dissemination of knowledge and facts, particularly in the early year of Maths and Science, but the sole memorisation and replication of these facts does not necessarily guarantee a wise student – merely one who is good at parroting back information.

The problem with exams and test is that schools and other education providers can get too involved with literal facts and the accumulation of them. The students are judged by how much information they have soaked up and can reproduce. But that is not necessarily learning; it is learning for assessment. And teachers end up teaching to the test – in short, teaching about things that may eventually be used in an exam. It is a very narrow-minded method, of selectively teaching information that is going to be assessed, rather than giving a broad range of education.

Why do they do that? Well, when you are choosing a school for your child, what do you look at? You look at its Ofsted ranking and its GCSE results, or where possible, how the school ranks in terms of SATS tests achievements. Better results suggest that the school is better – although they may only be teaching towards the test. In many schools, there are exams, and then there are mock-exams to prepare for the exams, and then a further round of mock exams. The students sit a battery of tests and are expected to find out why they made mistakes, and then plug the missing information into their brains. Learning for examination, and learning by examination. Schools have to do this because of the political game of attracting enough students to qualify for funding.

Learning a skill puts this style of learning into perspective. If you are learning a musical instrument like the piano, you have to work out reading the notes, hand-coordination, and develop that sort of fluency by going slower and being comfortable to doing many things at once. And once you have managed that, then you think about doing piano music exams. If a piano player were to learn and sit for an exam the same way as the school system seems to be going, they would merely be playing the same songs over and over again, entering themselves for exams over and over again, and hoping to pass – rather ineffective.

We should consider removing too much assessment in the school method, giving teachers the freedom to teach knowledge for its sake, rather than teaching to the test! The knowledge gained is more relevant, has more meaning and is likely to stay with the student for a longer period of time..

Taking care of vision

Could it be true that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be short-sighted?

The NHS website seems to think so. It cited a piece of research involving over 67,000 participants which surveyed their educational levels and correlated them to their vision.

The result was that individuals who had higher levels of education were found to be more short-sighted.

Does this mean that if we wanted our children to be educated to at least university level, we should be prepared that they will be Specsavers customers in the future?

Maybe we should start investing in company shares for Vision Direct?

Before we jump to conclusions, we should perhaps think rationally about these claims.

The reasons why eye sight deteriorates can be due to various factors: diet, lifestyle, too much close focus, among others.

When we read to our children, or encourage them to read, we must help them establish good reading habits.

These can include adequate lighting, ensuring no shadow on the book, or not too close focus.

Unfortunately, before bedtime, we tend to do bedtime stories in dim lighting, ostensibly to calm children down, and read in poor conditions.

When a shadow is cast on the book, the eyes have to work extra hard to pick out the words and come under strain.

The same is if we read in the lazy position of lying on our back while holding the book up towards the sky, arms outstretched.

If we lie on our stomachs, propped by elbows and read a book too closely, the focus of the eyes is narrowed and over time the eyes get lazy and this leads to myopia.

Many of the above positions for reading seem normal and it is hard to accept that they are bad, but we have become habituated to them that we just have to pause and consider what we are doing to ourselves and our children.

Being educated does not lead to myopia. But the development of bad habits, exacerbated through the pursuit of knowledge through education, does.

In other words, if you have poor reading habits, then reading more books to gain educational qualifications means you will develop myopia.

What we can do for our children is to encourage them to develop good reading habits. We can also encourage them not to spend too much time on close focus. For example, if they are taking up a musical instrument, such as learning the piano, then make sure the music is lit without shadow, not too glaring, and also that the children break off after some time and do not prolong their close focus. We can encourage them to play outdoors. It is a myth that the colour green is good for the eyes; it is just taking the time to focus of long-distance objects that resets the balance in our eyes.

We can also encourage our children to use less electronic devices and watch less TV, both because of the glare and prolonged close-focus.

We only have one set of eyes to last a lifetime. Those of our little ones have to last a lifetime while being bombarded by things that demand their attention. We can help by guiding them through the growing years and making important decisions that they are unable to conceptualise for their good.

Teaching our children new skills to cope

According to Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz, a data scientist who uses data to draw insights into human behaviour, people are less inclined to tell the truth face to face or in a survey, because of perceived reaction and perception. This means that they are afraid of what people might think of them and hence try to soften or cushion their words. The problem with this though is that information around us is hence not necessarily the best source. The data scientist believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded computer users – people believe they are anonymous when they are not, but that is a post for another day – many go on Google to search for answers to thoughts and hence the data trends are more accurate.

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

While we all know that money underpins a lot of our concerns – those who have financial freedom, and power, a BBC report revealed the extent to which it can affect us. A young man who took up a job as a delivery driver found himself in debt because of traffic violations, and that, coupled with the low-paying job he was on, meant he earned next to nothing and this mental stress caused him unfortunately to end his own life prematurely.

We all have worries about job security and for many adults that live from paycheck to paycheck with huge financial commitments, we must be careful that this stress does not impact on our children. Children that live in such households where there is latent stress grow up to be more negative and resentful, and fearful of life, instead of embracing it.

What can we do in such situations? After all, the modern world for most people creates tensions for us, and increasing demands of work, family, commitments and family and personal needs all never fit into of what a friend of mine calls the Tetris of Life.

We can find outlets of expression for us and for our children. Music is often seen to be a good outlet because it only costs a device (a phone which most of us already have) and some bandwidth. But listening to music is passive, involves mental processing and receiving input, and when they listen to more music, they are already cramming more into their minds and suppressing more mental triggers which want to manifest themselves in activity.

Instead, encourage them to try doing some activity instead. Take up a skill like learning to draw or playing an instrument like the piano which will give them outlets of expression. And these are activities they can do indoors in colder season (climate is another trigger for searches of “depression” in Google).

Like many other composers in the past, children can learn music to channel their inner emotions and give them an outlet from the stresses of their life and those that we may inadvertently transfer onto them.

Learning a musical instrument is not just a good idea for children, but for you as well, for the same reasons. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain and gives you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out. And speak with someone too, and try to dissipate the stress of the environment around you.

Daring children to fail

It seems that we are such a goal-oriented society and measure our progress by the attainment of success, that we have forgotten that in failure there is much to learn to.

Think of a child making a Lego set. He or she follows the instructions, and then perhaps after a nunber of steps encountes a point where the pieces do not fit as the diagrams intended.

What do you do? Should you just break up the whole thing into the constituent blocks and then start all over again?

Strangely enough, this is how some people approach their learning.

Some piano players that I have encountered, for example, are so intent on getting it right, that when they make a mistake, they merely keep returning to the first bar, and try playing again from the beginning hoping to get a complete error-free version.

The problem with doing this is that you get familiar with the opening stages of the process. You don’t really learn as much as dealing with the difficult stage. What you are doing is repeating the process and banking on, or gambling on, that the next time you do it right something will magically sort itself out.  You have not really learnt to deal with the obstacle, as you have attempted to do the thing again and hope it will be right.

Imagine if you were that child playing with Lego. You hit a snag and somewhere something must have gone wrong.

What should you do?

You should retrace your steps, until you get to the point where you can identify what you have built does not match with the instructions. There you learn where you went wrong, how you misintepreted the instructions, and how to watch out for that step again if you ever decide to build your model from scratch.

If you do ever make a mistake and then decide to start from scratch, you may think your perserverance is a positive factor, but actually it is not. You are merely masking a lack of initiative to solve problems by hoping hard graft can make up for a lack of perserverance and the will to develop intelligent problem-solving skills.

Daring to fail is not a bad point. It gives us the opportunity to gain maturity and intelligence by overcoming the problem ahead of us.

In life, everyone frequently hits a snag. This presents an opportunity for growth. This is what we should teach our children. Dare to fail, dare to make mistakes, so that in overcoming them we grow. You don’t need to produce perfection. If you don’t try for the fear of making an error, you have lost out on the opporunity for growth.

Achieving Greatness

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

We often wish for our children to achieve good things in life. Perhaps they have a skill that could be nurtured. Perhaps it could be art, music or drama. Maybe a child shows an engineering bias or a love for machinery, or craftwork. We want them to be the best they can be, to do the best they can achieve. But often we could end up visualising the final product, conveying it to them, that we neglect to convey to them the little steps we take to get there.

Too often we forget that to achieve big things we have to do things in little stages. To get from A to Z, you can’t just fix your eyes on Z and hope that by the sheer force of willpower you will be able to drag yourself all the way. It is possible, of course, depending on the size of the task, but willpower can be discouraged if you pull for too long with no end in sight, and affect the effort as well. Imagine you are pulling a heavy car tyre from one place to another, using a rope. (Why you would do that is beyond the scope of this discussion, but this is only a hypothetical example.) If you pull the heavy weight and have to move it one foot at a time, if you keep your eyes and thoughts transfixed on the end goal, then you are really going to be discouraged by how the gulf seems to be still there even though you are shifting with all your energy with each tug. And after you have done that for a while, you will feel discouraged and that will manifest itself in your effort. You will pull with less energy – why invest all the energy for little return – and when you end up in that state, it will turn out to be a negative cycle. You pull less, you move less, and finally you stop.

It is much easier mentally to break the big task into little stages and work towards the completion of each stage. Have you ever heard of people who have accomplished big projects, then told others of how, had they realised it was going to be so big at the time, they would have never started?

The achievement of a great task starts with little steps.

So perhaps a good life skill to teach our children, before we teach them to work hard and never to give up, is to be able to break tasks up into little things, to strategise. Then direct full effort into fulfiling each stage. Otherwise brute effort without direction is a waste of effort.

Teaching children the art of conversation

Have you ever had a closed conversation? You know, the type where you try to demonstrate interest in another person, but end up getting rebuffed by short, simplistic answers, which appear to signal irritation and that you are wasting another person’s time by getting in the way of more important activities they would prefer to be doing.

You: How are you?
Child: Fine.

You: How was your day?
Child: Okay.

Some children are not aware that their responses may constitute closed answers. They may not realise that it is hard work on the part of the person asking the questions to keep thinking of ways to keep the conversation going. Perhaps children have not learnt the social skill of this yet, that in an interchange both parties have to contribute.

You: How are you?
Child: Fine. What about you?

You: How was your day?
Child: Okay. What about yours?

Teaching children this structure of social exchange is a good life skill we can impart to them. In the above examples, it is just three simple words they can utter, but the empowerment is not in the words, it is the knowledge that by using such phrases, they are signalling intent to continue with the conversation and showing maturity in being able to do so.

Children from as young as four can be taught this skill. We should not expect that this kind of social skill comes without being taught, but we can show to children, demonstrate through role play, that this is how adults sometimes participate in an exchange too.

Children can learn that when someone asks them “How are you?” the correct response would be “Fine; how about you?”

When the adult that initially asks this is a conversation receives the response then the onus is on them to keep the conversation going, because the child has already fulfilled the obligation in continuing the social exchange.

The response may not necessarily be “How about you?” It can be a question, anything else that pushes the conversation back across.

“I’m fine, what did you do today?”

“Not bad. Have you been busy?”

An exchange that goes back and forth, allowing both speakers to provide information in turn is a meaningful exchange. We should teach our children meaningful exchange in order as an important skill.

It all starts with something as simple as “How about you”.

Why and how to encourage openness to learning

One of the traits that should be inculcated in children is arguably the importance of keeping an open mind. Why is this so? Well, keeping an open mind means being able to enjoy and welcome new experiences, which result in learning something new. Imagine two different children – one goes out of the house to play and makes friends and embraces new experiences by which he or she is enriched by, and these experiences go on to form the basis of newer experiences which result in the child having a good all-rounded childhood. The other stays home and does not try, does not want to extend himself or herself. Being around the second child is very tiring because you are trying to motivate him or her all the time and not really getting much out of it.

But how do you yourself feel when you have to learn something new? The thought of a new experience perhaps depends on what the experience itself is – if it is something closer to our hearts, we feel a sense of excitement at it. But if it is appears to be something more radical, we are less certain (“okay…..”). But it is good to keep an open mind, for the reasons we have explored above. And in situations where we have a sense of reservation, or even caution at the thought of learning something unfamiliar, it is good to appear to try, so that we do not pass on our reservations and slightly negative approaches on to the children. The extension of oneself is a life-long skill that everyone – not just children – should learn.

In a new situation, our initial reaction could be of unwillingness, and then some people overcome it, while others are content to remain within it. We must try to find the will to overcome it, and not dwell on the initial negative outlook.

How do we encourage our children to keep an open mind? The first is of course to develop the trait within ourselves. And then encourage our children to try. Trying is possibly one of the best skills to encourage our children to do. And we could set up situations where the trying is more important than the achievement itself. For this reason, it is good idea to encourage the attainment of skills, where there is not necessarily a fixed final product, but one where the child is free to determine what he or she wants to achieve using the skills of learning.

For example, if we encourage a child to tinker on an instrument, such as a drum or tambourine, show them how it makes noise and what they can do with it, and them leave with it, rather than instruct them with a “do this” pattern and keep drilling them to achieve it. That is not learning, and that form of learning is closed, where the input of the child is seconded to the expected product. It does not breed openness; on the other hand, it builds a layer of negative receptivity.

There are various skills that are good for building an attitude of openness to life. Dance, for example, is good. Let children experience music and create their own dance. Painting or drawing is another – show them how to use the brushes or pencils and colours and let them create what they want, then appraise in a non-judgemental way. Modelling and duplo bricks are also viewed as creative products because there is no one correct way. And in the little things in life, try to encourage a different way of doing things. If your child likes running, try to encourage him or her to run a different path, or do it hopping or backwards if they can manage it! Look for ways to be creative, to build openness to learning. It is a beneficial skill for life.

Managing Screen Time

If you feel like blaming your children or teens for their fixation on screens, just think of the times when you, as a sensible adult, have stayed up too late, against your better judgement, watching something unmemorable on television. Or the times you’ve been lured into checking out just one more Facebook post or YouTube video. If we, the mature adults that we are, find it so easy to get sucked into Screen World, just imagine how much more tempting it is for our children and teens. It’s only when we are in charge, when we are the deciders of what happens in our homes, that we are able to do our job of transmitting the values, skills and habits that we believe are important. When we are not in charge, our children’s immature values will prevail and will be reinforced.

I’m sure you’ve read or heard the advice about making parenting less stressful by ‘picking your battles’. What this usually boils down to is avoiding situations that would result in your child or teen whingeing, complaining, arguing, pleading, crying, slamming doors or throwing himself on the floor. The problem with picking our battles is that it’s the opposite of the teaching and training we need to do in order to transmit our values, skills and habits. In this context, what I mean by teaching is making sure our children and teens know what they should do. And by training I mean guiding them into the habit of doing what they know they should do.

Children often resist this teaching and training at first because changing habits is rarely easy. It’s natural for children to react to new routines and habits and rules with some complaining, crying, arguing or even tantrums – at first. So let’s not view this annoying behaviour as a ‘battle’ to be avoided. Let’s think of these negative reactions as immature ways of expressing uncomfortable emotions. A tantrumming child hasn’t yet learned how to express his upset in words, or perhaps he is so overwhelmed by the strength of his emotion that he temporarily forgets how to control his actions. Or it could be that this sort of misbehaviour has worked in the past, at least some of the time, to get your child some of what he wants. Whingeing or shouting or arguing might have bought him a bit more time to do what he wants. Or he might have noticed that sometimes you give up out of frustration or exasperation. Or maybe he’s learned that the crying and whingeing are guaranteed to get your attention.

Our job is not to avoid our children’s negative reactions, but to teach and train more sensible reactions. We will enjoy our role as teachers and trainers much more when we remember that children are, by definition, immature. They want what they want. They believe they need what they want. Let’s allow them to feel their childish feelings. Let’s not think of their upset feelings or the resulting misbehaviour as a battle. In a battle someone wins and someone else loses. But teaching and training isn’t about winning and losing; it’s about changing habits. Being in charge is not a static state of affairs. Over time you will probably refine your values. And as your children grow and develop, their needs will change. You will naturally continue to cycle back through the steps below until your children leave home.

Assessing

Before you can decide to take action consistent with your values about screen time, you need to discover exactly what’s happening.

Assessing (and reassessing) the current situation includes deciding whether what is happening in your home fits with your values. This step also includes listening to your children’s opinions and wishes. However, you will always have the final say because you are wiser and because it is your job to guide children towards the values you believe are right.

Planning
In order to plan effectively, first you need to clarify (with your partner if you have one) what your values are. This enables you to decide which rules and routines will guide your children towards those values. It may not be easy to come to an agreement with your partner. Although your fundamental values may be the same, how you each tend to put them into practice might be very different. Consistency between parents can be difficult to achieve. But we don’t have the luxury of deciding to ‘agree to disagree’. It’s not fair to our children to expect them to feel comfortable with two different sets of rules in the same home.

As you put your plan into practice, you will find yourself revisiting these steps many times, assessing the current situation in your home to see the results of your actions. It’s tempting to jump the gun, but don’t assume a strategy is not working based on how the first week or two go. Stick with a new strategy for at least a month. This gives your child time to get used to the new rules and routines. If a rule or routine isn’t going according to plan after a month or so, you will need to pause to assess what went wrong and then decide what you want to tweak.

Getting in charge of the technology in your home and staying in charge probably won’t be easy. You will be swimming against the tide, and you may get criticism from your extended family (especially if your child’s grandparents believe that love equals indulgence), maybe from other parents at the school gates, maybe even from your closest friends. On the other hand, your family and friends may be cheering you on, and they may want to learn from you how to get back in charge.

Staying consistent will be difficult at times. Humans are not by nature very good at being consistent; we change our minds and our plans a lot. And getting back in charge can feel like hard work, for one thing because dealing with our children’s initial fury about the new screen time rules and routines can be very upsetting. You may feel frustrated, angry, guilty, confused. You may feel like giving up. You will need to keep your wits about you; you won’t be able to let your guard down. That can feel exhausting at first, until the new routines are firmly established.

Parenting as a journey is a popular metaphor. A journey has a starting point and a destination. The starting point is that you’re not completely happy with what is happening with electronics in your home: your child is too much in charge and your values are not prevailing. You won’t reach your destination in one giant leap. You’ll be taking lots of small steps. And to complicate matters, you and your partner may be at different points in this journey towards getting back in charge.

When you use the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting strategies, screen time problems will be significantly reduced, and most can be eliminated. Even a severe problem can be transformed. Soon it will become a moderate issue, and then it will become a mild issue. Eventually, with consistency, it will end up a very mild issue. That is probably the best result you can hope for, given that our children will always be surrounded by the influences of Screen World. But you can live with a very mild issue because your children’s objections will fade over time.

Your children and teens will find renewed pleasure in non-screen activities. You will get more cooperation and respect. You will see more self-reliance and responsibility. You will have the immense satisfaction of seeing your children and teens developing more mature values and habits. You can make all this happen.

Some reasons for toddler misbehaviour

Limit-pushing behaviour can confound even the most attuned parent or caregiver. Why would our sweet darling throw her toy at us when we’ve just asked her not to, and then add insult to injury by smirking? Is she evil? Does she have a pressing need to practice throwing skills? Maybe she just hates us…

Sensitive, intensely emotional, and severely lacking in impulse control, toddlers often have unusual ways of expressing their needs and feelings. If it’s any consolation, these behaviours don’t make sense to our children either. The simple explanation is the unfortunate combination of an immature prefrontal cortex and the turbulent emotions of toddlerhood. More simply: children are easily overwhelmed by impulses bigger and stronger than they are. In other words, your child very likely understood that you didn’t want her to hit you, her friends, siblings, and pets; dump her food or water onto the floor; whine, scream, and call you “stupid”; but her impulses made a different choice. And though she smirks, this isn’t out of ill will.

Always remember to never, ever take a child’s limit-pushing behaviour personally.

Our children love, appreciate, and need us more than they can ever say. Remind yourself of these truths multiple times daily until you’ve internalized them, because a healthy perspective on limit-pushing is a crucial starting point. Respecting children means understanding their stage of development, not reacting to their age-appropriate behaviour as if they are our peers.

Here are the most common reasons young children push limits:

1. SOS! I can’t function.
Young children seem to be the last people on earth to register their own fatigue or hunger. They seem programmed to push on, and sometimes their bodies will take possession of their minds and transmit SOS messages to us through attention-getting behaviour. When I think about my own children’s limit-pushing behaviour, the examples that immediately come to mind are about fatigue:

There was the day at RIE class when my toddler son (who has always seemed to have social savvy) suddenly started hitting and pushing. Ah-ha. He’s tired and has had enough of this. I let him know I heard him and that we’d be leaving: “I don’t want you to hit. I think you’re letting me know you’re tired and ready to go home, right?” But then I got involved in a discussion with one of the other parents and forgot for a moment and, no surprise, he hit again. Oops. Totally my fault. “Sorry, B, I told you we would leave and then started talking. Thanks for reminding me we need to go.”

Then there was the family trip when one of my daughters, age four at the time, uncharacteristically spoke rudely to my mother. Taken aback for a moment (How could she?) but determined to remain calm, I intervened: “I can’t let you talk to Grandma that way….we’re going to go.” I ushered her out of the room screaming (my daughter was the one screaming, although I wanted to). As I carried her to a private space where she could melt down with me safely, it hit me — we’d been traveling for six or seven hours. Of course she’s exhausted and just letting me know in her four-year-old way. Duh. My fault again. I cannot count the number of times my children’s behaviour has hit the skids because they were suddenly overtaken by hunger just twenty minutes after they’d been offered food. And their inevitable response — “I wasn’t hungry then” — always seemed so unfair. Apparently all is fair when it comes to love, war, and toddlers.

2. Clarity, please.
Children will often push our limits simply because they haven’t received a straight answer to the question, “What will you do if I do such-and-such?” And then they might need to know, “Will it be different on Monday afternoon? What about when you’re tired? Or I’m cranky? If I get upset, will you do something different?” So by continuing to push limits, toddlers are only doing their job, which is to learn about our leadership (and our love), clarify our expectations and house rules, and to understand where their power lies. Our job is to answer as calmly and directly as possible. Our responses will obviously vary from situation to situation, but they should consistently demonstrate that we’re totally unthreatened by their behaviour, that we can handle it, and that it’s no big deal at all.

3. What’s all the fuss about?
When parents lose their cool, lecture, over-direct, or even talk about limit-pushing behaviours a bit too much, they can create interesting little dramas which children are compelled to re-enact. Punishments and emotional responses create stories that are frightening, alarming, shaming, guilt-inducing, or any combination.

When parents say more than a sentence or two about the limit-pushing behaviour, even while remaining calm, they risk creating a tale about a child with a problem (perhaps he hugs his baby sister too forcefully), which then causes the child to identify with this as his story and problem, when it was just an impulsive, momentary behaviour he tried out a couple of times.

For instance, counter to the example I shared about my daughter speaking rudely to Grandma, which for me clearly indicated that she was out-of-herself and unraveling, my response would be far more minimal if a spark of rudeness was directed at me. Rather than react and risk creating a story around occasional whining, screaming “you’re stupid,” “I hate you,” etc., I would dis-empower those behaviours by allowing them to roll-l-l off my back. Perhaps I’d acknowledge, “I hear how angry you are about leaving the park. That really disappointed you.”

Always, always, always encourage your child to express these feelings. Again, testing us with these behaviours from time to time is age-appropriate, and if we react, we may encourage this to continue. Sometimes children will smile or laugh when they know they are re-enacting a story, but this is usually an uneasy, tentative smile rather than one of happiness.

4. Do I have capable leaders?
Imagine how disconcerting it is to be two, three, or four years old and not be certain we have a stable leader. The most effective leaders lead with confidence, keep their sense of humor, and make it look easy. This takes practice but — not to worry — children will give us plenty of chances through their limit-pushing behaviour until we get it right. Know what’s important, both for you and for the child. If you are not clear, the child’s opposition will persist, which will make you, the parent, even angrier. This in turn highlights the conflict that exists already, leading to an unhappy situation combining anger, guilt, and fear. A child has a difficult time growing up with ambivalent parents.

5. I’ve got a feeling.
Children will sometimes persistently push limits when they have internalized feelings and stress that they need to release. Trusting this invaluable process and calmly (but firmly) holding the limits for our child while welcoming his or her feelings is the quickest and healthiest way to ease this need for limit-pushing. Maintaining an “all feelings allowed” attitude will nip most limit-pushing behaviours in the bud.

6. The sincerest form of flattery (sort of).
Children are sensitive and impressionable, and we are their most influential models, so they will absorb our behaviour and reflect it through theirs. For example, if we snatch toys away from our child, she may persistently snatch from friends. A child is likely to behave more erratically whenever her parents are upset or stressed about anything, especially if her parents haven’t openly shared these feelings.

7. Seems the best way to get your attention these days.
If the comfort and validation of our attention has been in short supply, or if there have been compelling mini-stories and dramas created around our child’s limit-pushing behaviour, she might end up repeating them to seek this negative attention.

8. Have you told me that you love me lately?

When children feel ignored, or even just a bit out of favour with us, it rattles them, and fear shows up in their limit-pushing behaviour. Reassuring hugs, kisses, and “I love you” will certainly help to mend these bridges, but the messages of love that matter most are heard through our patience, empathy, acceptance, respectful leadership, and the genuine interest we take in knowing our child.

To love toddlers is to know them.